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   Chapter 38 No.38

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 9669

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It exasperated and incensed Carson-this high-handed attempt of the hidalgo to gag and stop his mouth, to cow and overawe his soul.

He did not bother now to temper or anyway mollify his words. Bluntly, boldly, he asserted:

"I know your sort of man, Don Jaime! We have them in my country-the Kentuckians, for instance! You do not really desire to kill Felicidad. Your pride goads you, but your heart is no longer in the work. And now you are more pleased than chagrined that I have stepped forth as her champion-you think to satisfy your pride by working up enough venom against me to bump me off and let the matter end there!

"I'll take my chances, proud hidalgo. I'll fight you every move until bitten by your lead. But you are not going, as you say, to wage much longer this war in words. Very soon you are either going to get hot enough to plug me, or you are going to throw up the sponge! Oh, I know your sort! You'll do one or the other. But one thing you will not do-you will not allow yourself to be made ridiculous!"

Don Jaime was staggered. The American's talk was a talk strange and utterly new to him. John Fremont Carson fought him with weapons that he had not known existed.

Don Jaime lowered the heavy horse-pistol to his knee. A spirit of sardonic deviltry entered into him. He would worst this cheeky American on his own ground! His lips curling half in smile, half in sneer, a strange light in his eyes, he said:

"Senor Americano, I will combat you and crush you with your own kind of weapon. I will vanquish you with words-with one question! But it must be understood, for the nonce, that I possess unqualifiedly and absolutely the right to speak as Felicidad's father."

The American nodded, a kind of bewildered wonder crowding his eyes.

"For the nonce, that prerogative is yours," he agreed.

"Bueno! Then straightway I challenge you to prove yourself of fit birth to be Felicidad's husband! This is Spain, senor. I speak now as a Spanish father. More; I am a hidalgo, and I speak for my daughter who is the daughter of a hidalgo of Spain! She has an inheritance of blood and pride which you cannot gainsay, but which you must equal if you would marry her!"

Dan Jaime spoke with a Latin fluency of exposition, in a rushing torrent of words. His eyes sparkled like vitreous slag.

"Look you, my cheeky one! No man of common birth may hope to aspire to my daughter. We Spanish grandees are a feudal race, caste-bound and arrogant of birth. Perhaps you do not understand the true color of the situation, eh? Then know you that even in Spain there are not more than a score of men who are my equal in seignior blood and ancient knightly name!

"Now, for any one outside this aristocratic circle to yearn and quest for my daughter's hand would be a sun-daring presumption. Take this Manuel Morales, for an instance." Momentarily his eyes leaped up the street to where the matador stood, his wasted form propped against the mud wall of the hospital.

"Morales is the hero of the peninsula, as you know-a popular idol, a famous and distinguished man. Royalties and hidalgos ask after his health, greet him by name and with handshake. He is the most renowned of modern bullfighters. And he is a rich man-richer far than are most grandees; for much, much gold has come to him along with his well-deserved success.

"Yet never would Morales dare to look for a wife among blooded folk! Indeed, should he be so mad as to presume so far, the hidalgo whom he thus affronted would kill him without ruth, as for a deadly grievance. And at once that hidalgo would be acquitted of all wrong by the public opinion of Spain. Aye, though Morales is the idol of all Spaniards!

"That is right and as it should be; for when all is said, he is only a bullfighter. And bullfighters have no social standing; they are not men of birth nor breeding; they are a low caste. Ask Morales himself. Even now he is nodding agreement to my every word!"

Carson did not trouble to turn his head to gain corroboration of the doctor's statement from the matador up the street. He realized already the poser Don Jaime was soon to spring. He eyed the haughty hidalgo fixedly, a peculiar smile slowly parting his lips.

"And Quesada," Don Jaime swept on-"Jacinto Quesada is in the same case as Morales. My words apply to him as much as they do to any bullfighter. Not because he is the Wolf of the Sierras, a bandolero and outlaw. Seguramente, no! But only because he is of common birth."

Don Jaime paused. He looked down at the American. The half-smile had altogether fled his lips. His lips were palpably sneering.

"Now as to yourself, my cheeky one!" he said with biting sharpness. "It is often said that the Americans are a nation of canaille. Can you prove yourself worthy of the daughter of a Spanish h

idalgo and grandee? I ask you that. I wait for your answer."

"You ask me to prove to you that I am not of common birth?"

Don Jaime nodded vigorously. Caspita! this was indeed a trump card! All the venom of his embittered spirit showed.

"You cannot prove that, eh? Then it is true, is it not, that the Americans are a nation of-"

"One moment, Don Jaime. Your Spanish royalty is the keystone, the fountainhead, of Spanish society, is it not? Alfonso, your king, is as good and better an aristocrat than any of his hidalgos-"

"There are some that would dispute you there. Myself, I know my line is older! My ancestors-"

The American was broadly smiling.

"You will admit, however, that Alfonso is of uncommon birth?"

"Seguramente, yes! Is he not my master and lord!"

"Well, then! I was born in the same year as Alfonso, 1886. He was the son of a king; I the son of an American millionaire. Because Alfonso was such a high and mighty infant, his birth was a long-heralded public affair. And so was mine. When I was born, the newspapers of America remarked that here was no common birth. In long articles they compared it to the birth of Alfonso, citing statistics to show the principalities in mines and manufactories I would rule, the kingly revenues that would pour annually into my coffers of state.

"Alfonso's actual birth was marked by great pomp and a certain ceremony. To prove that he was truly the son of his royal mother, that everything was aboveboard and as it should be, in the room with the queen, when Alfonso first put in an appearance, were a round dozen and more hidalgos-"

"That is our Spanish custom when royal infants are born."

"Just so. A very uncommon birth! Well, with my mother, when first I put in an appearance, were a round dozen doctors and nurses of all kinds, trained and practical, wet and dry! Quite an uncommon birth, too, don't you think?"

What could Don Jaime do? Carson had worsted him signally. The grim drama had become almost a comedy, a farce!

Don Jaime feared longer to persist. It would not do for him to be made ridiculous and laughable.

All at once he lifted his head and looked beyond Carson, beyond Felicidad. In a great voice, he called out:

"Put up your gun, Quesada! I am a wineskin squeezed dry; I am empty of all words and all passions; I am done! Put up your gun, you Wolf-Cub you, and I will put up mine! I had meant to beat you to the first shot-to kill Felicidad and then have you kill me! But now-Carajo, I am done!"

Like mechanical toys on clockwork pivots, every man and woman within sound of the doctor's great voice, turned simultaneously to look for Quesada.

There, twenty feet away, stood the wolfishly gaunt bandolero, a revolver in his right hand trained rigidly on Don Jaime! That revolver had once been Jacques Ferou's!

Not before had John Fremont Carson noticed the revolver in Quesada's hand. He was taken completely by surprise. Little had he realized how close to black tragedy had been the drama in which he had enacted so prominent a part!

In the American's eyes, in the eyes of every man there present, the hidalgo on horseback loomed up, then and on the sudden, with a new and imposing dignity, a rare nobility and magnificence. Don Jaime alone had known of the imminent threat of Quesada's revolver. All the while he had striven to attain his vengeance, all that while Don Jaime had trusted his life to a hair. Quesada had him covered. The mere press of a finger on the trigger, and Don Jaime would have toppled out of the saddle-a dead man!

Quesada had thought Don Jaime all unaware. Now, for the first time, he comprehended the sublime insolence of the hidalgo's persistency. Abashed and shamefaced, he lowered the revolver and shoved it back into his belt.

Don Jaime lifted the horse-pistol from his knee and slipped it into the holster slung from the saddle. Then, without another word and without even a glance toward his daughter, he turned the old nag's head about and went deliberately down the goat path.

He never once looked round. But his back seemed not quite so rigid nor his old white head so erect. All at once there were about the unmistakable signs of an old, old man. And in the slow pace of the faithful nag, there seemed something that wanted to linger yet was urged on by pride, inexorable and pitiless.

"Oh, mi pobre padre!" wailed Felicidad after him. "His heart breaks and he is lonely! And there is only old whining Pedro and the childish Teresa to welcome him back to the gloomy casa!"

Save for the creaking of the saddle, the soft pad-pad of the horse's hoof-falls, nothing answered from down the goat path. For the first time then, in all that intolerable eternity of death and disease and lusting vengeance, Felicidad wilted in a swoon to the ground.

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